How Little Women shows the different sides of feminism
By Mackenzie Gellner, Web Editor
Arguably, there is a certain stereotype associated with feminism. However, feminism as a word and a movement merely refers to gender equality, and the right to determine your own future without the confines of preconceived gender roles. In Greta Gerwig’s latest film, Little Women, the idea of feminism is explored through the characters and the choices they make to pursue their dreams.
Adapted countless times, Little Women began its life as a novel published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869 by Louisa May Alcott. At the time of writing Little Women, Alcott was already a published author, writing novels and children’s literature which quickly became successful. With this success under her belt, Alcott set out to write a semi-autobiographical account of herself and her four sisters and their childhood in Concord Massachusetts, ultimately creating Little Women.
The story follows Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, four sisters growing up together, yet who each have completely different aspirations. Meg hopes to find the love of her life, Jo dreams of being an unwed writer, Beth prefers simplicity and the sound of her piano and Amy wants “…to be an artist in Rome and be the best painter in the world.”
Although both Jo, played by Saoirse Ronan, and Amy, played by Florence Pugh, have high career aspirations, Amy has come to terms over her limitations of being a woman during the 1800s, whereas Jo still strives to break through.
19th century limitations
Being a woman in the 1800s came with a certain societal mold you were expected to fit into. A mold which Alcott — an unwed abolitionist writer who refused to wear a corset — herself did not fit, and sought to explore through the characters of her novel.
In the film, Amy speaks to Laurie, portrayed by Timothée Chalamet, about her decision to marry a man she doesn’t truly love. Due to her stagnant career as a painter, she sees her only option as marrying a man who can financially support her and her family.
In Laurie’s confusion, he asks why she would marry for money, and she reminds him that from her perspective, marriage is an economic proposition, not just a romantic one. Marriage is one of the few opportunities provided to her to become financially stable.
Meanwhile, her older sister Jo, who is determined to make it on her own terms finds herself working as a governess while trying to pursue her writing career. Jo often finds herself writing what editors tell her will sell in order to be published and make enough money to continue. Although Amy and Jo have very similar ambitions — becoming artists successful enough to achieve financial stability — their ultimate answers to success differ as they are both reigned in by the financial and social limits placed on women during the 19th century.
Even today, economic independence can be a challenge for women, as a gendered wage gap continues to prevail, and the struggles of these two sisters and the concessions they must make — looking for money in marriage, and sacrificing independence in artwork to make a profit –— continues to be a consideration for many women in their own search for economic independence.
Faces of feminism
Moments before her wedding, Meg, played by Emma Watson, asks Jo to understand that, “Just because my dreams are different than yours, doesn’t mean they are unimportant.” This line comes at an emotional moment as Jo tries to convince her older sister that she would be better off not being married, so the two of them could live their lives writing for and performing on the stage.
Although Meg has been shown to excel at acting, her dreams of being married and having her own family have been as prevalent as Jo’s dreams to become a writer. Jo is choosing her career and Meg is choosing to have a family, but both are choices they each want to make for themselves, and despite the differences, this scene perfectly exemplifies how both Jo and Meg are feminists, each in their own unique way.
Feminism has never been about burning bras and hating men, it has been about the right to make a choice. Feminism is a movement to promote the ability of women to decide what they want to do with their lives, regardless of societal expectations.
Still a reality
Although the the film is set in the past, one must consciously recognize its relevance today. No matter your gender, taking time out of your day to watch, or read Little Women will give you a perspective you didn’t even realize you needed.
Through this film, Gerwig presented feminism through a coming-of-age classic with elements of comedy and emotion which makes it highly relatable (especially if you grew up with sisters).